Imagine the Scottish government or Westminster were asked to quantify the importance of family businesses to the Scottish economy. How many MSPs or MPs would be able to respond with hard facts on employment, turnover, exports, investment, innovation or local community impact?
Now imagine they were asked a similar question about manufacturing, energy, construction, tourism, whisky, or the steel industry - it’s a pretty safe bet that you would be knocked over in the scrum as MSPs and MPs leapt to their feet brandishing fistfuls of statistics.
More than 1-in-3 people work for a family business
Yet Scotland’s 180,000 family businesses are involved in a wide range of industry sectors and make a major contribution to the economy. Collectively, they support 900,000 jobs and generate £50 billion or 45% of total Scottish GDP. In perspective, that means more than one-in-three people in Scotland are employed by a family business.
Also, at a time when 166,000 people or 6% of the working-age population are unemployed, if each family business were to add just one more employee, it would completely wipe out unemployment.
That is the kind of statistic that grabs politicians’attention, but hard data is difficult to come by as historically neither Holyrood nor Westminster have seen fit to commit resources to collating or monitoring statistics on family businesses. This is despite the incontrovertible fact that data produced by third parties to date clearly shows that family businesses make a major and vital contribution to Scotland’s economy and that of the wider UK.
Success of Family Business Week
Family businesses, many of which have not just survived but prospered and grown through successive generations, need and deserve not just recognition but a strong voice and that is one important aspect of what the recent Family Business Week in Scotland was all about and indeed what FBUS is about.
It was a highly successful series of events including a well-attended evening reception and a lively one-day conference that featured family businesses - Anderson Maguire and Scotland’s oldest family business, John White & Son. Company visits featured two firms we have had the pleasure of working with for many years including ACS, the largest wholesale supply of formal wear outfits for hire in Europe, and Mactaggart & Mickel a 90-year old business that has been building quality homes for four generations.
FBUS Advisory Board
Under the FBUS (as we call it) umbrella, we have brought together family businesses, academics and professional advisers with a common interest and expertise in the issues facing family-owned businesses today, establishing a pool of experts from which we have formed the first Advisory Board. The board, which will be 10-strong when we announce the final appointments, currently has 8 members including myself as Chairman and my colleague Gordon McCall as secretary. It also has representatives from two other professional advisory firms: Turcan Connell and Close Brothers Asset Management; Paul Andrews, the founder of Family Business United, as well as Keira Proctor, Managing Director of A Proctor Group, a fourth generation construction products business. She will be joined on the board shortly by a representative of another successful Scottish family business.
I was delighted to welcome board members from two highly-respected academic institutions - John Anderson, Director of the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde University and Claire Seaman who specialises in Enterprise and Family Business at Queen Margaret University. They will play a pivotal role in creating a bespoke high-quality education programme for FBUS members that is entirely relevant to the wide-ranging needs of family companies.
The FBUS Advisory Board has a remit to provide overall strategic direction on FBUS as well as to to provide guidance on FBUS events and educational programmes.
Our priorities are:
to build a strong community of family businesses that can draw mutual support from each other
to provide bespoke educational opportunities that address challenges and leverage strengths
to give a powerful new voice to family businesses in Scotland.
Sharing the wisdom, sharing the burden
We know that family businesses can feel isolated, concentrating on ploughing their own furrow, surviving and finding the best way to prosper and create value for the next generation. They are frequently weighed down by the pressures of managing both business and family issues. That is why it is so important for FBUS to build a network of like-minded people who can share experiences and support each other and the good news is many businesses are willing to do so.
One FBUS member from a very successful fourth-generation family business remarked that one of the most valuable learning opportunities he ever had came from attending a dinner with people from first, second, third, fourth and even fifth generation family businesses and sharing experiences. FBUS can act as a fulcrum for occasions like that. We have embarked on an exciting journey and we are clear about our destination - what we need now is for more family businesses to get on board the FBUS.